Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Building Dramaturgy David Lee Morgan @ edfringe 2015

PBH’s Free Fringe

UK and reigning BBC slam poetry champion, David Lee Morgan, spits over music tracks produced and mixed by CloudFistConceptz with an added track by Revolution Void.

Aug 7-30 (every day except Wednesdays)
@Venue 156
The Banshee Labyrinth, Banqueting Hall

BUILDING GOD: Communism or oblivion… Now that the great revolutions of the last century have been defeated, are we doomed to bury ourselves in the slime of a money-grubbing, market-driven insane asylum, or is a bright future still possible? What can we learn from the past? What can we do for the future? 

This is a continuation of the ideas developed in Science, Love and Revolution. It reprises one essential poem from that show, “What Is To Be Done”, and then looks at the history of communist revolution in the light of the ideals expressed in that poem. 

The Fringe 

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
The idea for Building God began as a continuation of the ideas developed in Science, Love and Revolution. It reprises one essential poem from that show, What Is To Be Done, and then looks at the history of communist revolution in the light of the ideals expressed in that poem. Both works came out of my engagement with the London spoken word scene, which has so many revolutionary minded poets from diverse spoken word and political traditions from all over the UK and the world. 

I found myself in a dialogue where i could express my most extreme political and philosophical thoughts and have them listened to, taken seriously, and reacted to, both in comments on the poems themselves and in poems on the same subjects written by many others. I was also struck by how many people would love my poems and ideas, but then go on to say things that seemed to me to completely contradict what i thought i had said. This spurred me on to try to express my ideas with more clarity, but also to try to hone in on the ways that i differed from the general drift of thought in the scene – not to be contrary, but to try to dig into the contradictions more deeply, understand them more deeply.

This sounds kind of abstract and general, but in application, the work has to be very concrete: “Generality is the death of art,” Arthur Miller.

Where does your piece at the fringe fit with your usual work?

 i’ve been writing all my life, songs, stories, poems, novels, plays. I spent about ten years locked in my room writing communist broadway musicals – that somehow never made it to broadway. I love writing for theatre. I especially love the “musical” form, that includes songs embedded in more realistic dialogue, a mixture of the rough and the holy that Peter Brook talked about in his book, The Empty Space

Those few times when i’ve been able to see the characters in my head come to life on the stage have been magic. Performing a song or a poem for an audience that’s digging it is like really good sex; seeing one of your plays come to life on the stage is like falling in love. 

But that happened so seldom for me, and a play isn’t really finished until it’s been put up on stage. I got tired of twenty year old readers telling me something wouldn’t work on stage when i knew it would. With spoken word, it gets on the stage because i take it there. And i’m in love with the music of words, so it’s a good fit.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
I think a lot of people are depressed and angry about the world situation. The great revolutions of the past have been defeated, and many millions of the most oppressed are placing their hopes in religious fundamentalism – not just Islamic fundamentalism, we can see Christian, Jewish, Hindu and even Buddhist fundamentalism playing the same role. 

The show holds out the possibility that we can learn from the great revolutions of the past, their achievements and failures, and go beyond them to build the kind of world we all dream of, where cruelty and senseless death are not just a part of the mix, a world based cooperation and yes, love.

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work? 
A lot of times, i just want to say the words, give them their rhythm, try very hard not to perform, just let them do their work.

But in a full show, i think it’s important to think of it theatrically, pay attention to a narrative line, movement, music, visuals, all the resources available. 

I got a chance to perform at the Isle of Wight Festival this year. When i wasn’t on, i just parked myself in front of the main stage and took mental notes. I was especially impressed by Pharrell Williams' show. Not a big fan of his songs, but the show was a total production. He had clearly given a great deal of creative thought to every aspect of the stage and sound. A lot to learn from. 

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work -  have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
Influences: Woody Guthrie, Brecht, Heiner Müller, Gil Scot Heron, Sharon Olds, Marx-Lenin-Mao, Spinoza, Lucretius, Rogers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Suzanne Vega. Not sure I fit into any one tradition. I like the phrase, punk-latin-blues. If i were to name one artist, i guess it would be Heiner Müller for his mix of intense poetry and deep thought. 

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process? 
Sometimes i start with a nugget, a phrase or an idea, and then just go and go a la Kerouac or Sam Shepard. This is especially true of the more gut-wrenching personal stuff. But when i’m writing in a more political/philosophical vein, i will often spend two or three months obsessed with a single poem. 

I am a big fan of singing (not preaching) to the choir, but i hate rah-rah cheerleader stuff. i try to think deeply (he says) and challenge (not comfort) people who may mostly agree with me. 

I find that paying attention to the more formal aspects of a poem often forces me off the cliche highway into a more creative (and truer) path – but it is essential to be stubborn about never putting something in just because it rhymes, scans or whatever. 

I find collaboration difficult, because i have such definite ideas. When directing a play of mine a few years ago, i was once banned from the green room by the actors. 

But i rely very much on critical feedback from friends and strangers when i present a work for the first, second, third time... I do a lot of rewriting – and new writing – based on what i’ve learned. Over the last several years my work has been greatly enriched and deepened by my involvement in the incredibly diverse and international spoken word scene in London.

What do you feel the role of the critic is? 
To be honest, the role of the critic in my life has mostly been to ignore me. Maybe this is changing. When I did Science, Love and Revolution at the free fringe, i was astonished at how much a couple rave reviews changed my profile and opened doors for me. There are some very perceptive critics writing about spoken word now, and a lot who are well intentioned but full of shit. 

Role of the critic in general – hmmm... i suppose it ranges from making profound, insightful comments that let people see a work in a new light or even discover a whole new artist or genre...

to just letting people know what’s on and helping them guess whether they would like seeing it. Sometimes the worst critics are the best for this. I have friends who decide what to see based on what their “favourite” critic hates. 

Reviews of Science, Love and Revolution:
I am awed by Morgan's passion, his humorous yet enraged intellectual appraisal… An energetic, clever, passionate survey of human life.

One of those rare, passionate performances... bristling with energy and interesting ideas. If you want a bracing crash course in how to “read history… with a f***ing blowtorch,” look no further. A driving score by Michael Harding, supplemented by a smattering of saxophone solos from the poet himself, manages to complement the text without competing with it.

He was brilliant. I’ve never seen someone transform so powerfully and fully…. He spits out the words of sacrifice, suffering and revolution, of wisdom and enlightenment. What he says is radical, is political, but it’s also wise.

David Lee Morgan has travelled the world with his saxophone, as a performance poet and street musician. He has won many poetry slams, including the 2014 BBC Edinburgh Fringe Championship, the London and UK Slam Championships. His 2013 spoken word show, Science, Love and Revolution, received rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and was featured at at StAnza 2014, the international poetry festival in St. Andrews, Scotland. 

He is a longstanding member of the Writers Guild, and holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Newcastle University. He lives in London, grew up in the USA, was born in Berlin, and considers himself a citizen of the planet. He has been published in The Wooster Review, The Delinquent, The Human Rights Anthology, Huffington Post and Indigo. His book, Science, Love and Revolution, the text of poems from his critically acclaimed 2013 Edinburgh show, is published on Amazon.

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